A crack shot, Billy Sinclair leads his Marine unit’s sniper team as they enter Fallujah in 2004, where Iraqi insurgents wait, but he carries a heavy burden: the unexplained suicide of his best friend the day before Sept. 11, 2001, two blows that drove him to enlist.
Readers of Vandenburg’s The Home Front (2015) will discover another story of a dedicated soldier who can't escape a tormented family. A skilled writer who has done her homework, Vandenburg not only immerses herself in her characters, but seems to accept their rather black-and-white worldview: Iraqi insurgents are suicidal fanatics. Marines are a band of brothers. Civilian leaders in Washington, cowed by our Al-Jazeera–dominated media that loves tales of American atrocities, hamstring troops with impossible rules of engagement. The Iraqis themselves are a disappointment: civilians refuse to believe our noble intentions; Iraqi units, supporting our side, run away. As the Marines advance, Vandenburg delivers a meticulous description of elite troops clearing an enemy city. At first, the houses are empty. Then they are not. Murderous firefights break out. Innumerable insurgents and some civilians die. Marines begin to fall. Billy achieves an epiphany about his responsibility for his friend’s death. It does not end well, but neither did the first battle of Fallujah. This is good, popular war fiction with convincing battle scenes and a mildly flawed hero. A killing machine with a conscience, Sinclair is a carbon copy of Bradley Cooper in the recent film American Sniper.
Readers should enjoy the fireworks and not think too deeply about the underlying theme, which is that the real victims in Iraq are our guys.